Trash talking has been an important, yet underrated aspect of sport for as long as people have been competing. The ability to talk trash can put opponents on tilt and cause them to make crucial mistakes they otherwise would not have made. Throughout the 20th century, fans have been drawn to individuals that can promote their abilities eloquently, while simultaneously bashing their opponents.
Trash talking can raise a player’s profile to legendary status and help them secure a place in their chosen sport’s history. While many of the athletes included on this list are already legendary, their loquaciousness earned them mainstream notoriety. When this happens, it not only raises an individual athlete’s profile, it can also raise the profile of an entire sport or team. Trash talking is a vital part of promotion for combat sports and can transform an otherwise pedestrian bout into a must-watch event.
When athletes are allowed to display their personalities in a positive manner, it helps them establish a connection with fans. Even if that comes at the expense of an opposing player, these athletes are creating important narratives and writing their own place in the history books. Many of them utilize their verbal skills to elevate their reputations beyond the reach of a typical sports superstar. Here are the 20 greatest trash talkers of all time that have eloquently transcended their competition.
20 Reggie Miller
Many basketball fans think of Reggie Miller as the outspoken commentator that also happens to be one of the greatest shooters of all time. What some have forgotten is that Miller is also one of the greatest trash talkers in NBA history. Even as a rookie, Miller wouldn’t shy away from talking smack to legends like Michael Jordan, who taught him a lesson by dropping 42 points on him. Reggie’s feud with Spike Lee helped take the Pacers vs. Knicks rivalry of the 1990s to a legendary level, and it would never have happened without Reggie’s choke signal.
19 Chael Sonnen
Chael Sonnen may not have been the greatest fighter in UFC history, but he is certainly one of the greatest trash talkers. His feud with Anderson Silva threw the longtime Middleweight champion off his game, as Sonnen punished him over the course of a brutal string of press conferences. Sonnen was nearly able to pull off the victory, landing the vast majority of blows during his bout with Silva, but fell victim to the Spider's BJJ. His trash talk highlight reel is one of the greatest available on YouTube.
18 Kobe Bryant
Throughout the course of his legendary NBA career, Kobe Bryant has had a hobby of besting the NBA’s best in smack talk. Kobe’s mind games have pushed opponents, and even his own teammates, to the limit, with Kobe smiling and taking advantage at every turn. Kobe’s list of victims includes LeBron James, Allen Iverson Michael Jordan, and even President Barack Obama. Kobe’s schtick typically includes a reference to his five NBA Championship rings, which are more than enough to silence all but the most vocal opponents.
17 Chris Pronger
Chris Pronger was an impossible to miss presence on the ice, and that is not only because of his massive frame. Pronger was a big, mean, tough guy in addition to being a supremely skilled defenseman. His penchant for engaging in banter was routinely on display, and his chirps at opposing players would draw furious responses. Pronger also had a habit of stealing the puck after particularly important opposing goals, which drove the Chicago Blackhawks crazy. His shutdown of Adam Burish during an interview is definitely worth checking out.
16 Mike Tyson
Widely considered to be one of the most fearsome pugilists to ever set foot in the ring, Mike Tyson is also one of the greatest trash talkers in the rich history of the sport. His tirade during a Jim Grey interview after a victory over Lou Savarese is truly the stuff of legends. He chose to call out Lennox Lewis by listing his accolades, while also issuing him threats. Few have ever been able to match his rant during which he declared his style to be impetuous, his defense impregnable, and that he was the most ruthless champion there has ever been. Hard to disagree with that after he expressed his desire to eat Lewis’ children.
15 Sean Avery
Few players in NHL history have had the ability to enrage their opponents the way that Sean Avery was able to during his career. He was nicknamed “The Pest” for his ability to put his opponents on tilt, whether it was through his routine chirps or penchant for diving to draw penalties. His taunting was undeniably the strongest part of his game, because as an undersized forward, he was never the most productive offensive player. His affinity for the dramatic even allowed him to take a movie role, where he played a New York Rangers enforcer.
14 Chad Johnson
As one of the most dynamic playmakers of his generation, Chad Johnson drove opposing cornerbacks crazy. His route running was spectacular, but where Johnson truly excelled was in talking smack. He had a calendar hanging in his locker that listed the players likely to cover him, and he would spend his interview time taking shots at them in order. Perhaps the most infuriating part of covering Johnson was that when a cornerback failed at his assignment, Ochocinco would celebrate with a flourish that would draw big fines and unbelievable media attention. He is partially responsible for the NFL’s crackdown on excessive celebrations.
13 John McEnroe
John McEnroe typically reserved his trash talking for visually challenged umpires who had the gall to rule his masterful shots out of bounds. McEnroe’s outbursts drew widespread attention and brought his appeal to an audience well beyond what tennis is used to receiving. His tirade against opponent Ivan Lendl remains one of the greatest in tennis history, when McEnroe declared, “I’ve got more talent in my pinkie than Lendl has in his whole body.” His eloquence elevated his status to an international celebrity, and he continues to advocate for more trash talk in a sport typically considered gentlemanly.
12 Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s boxing prowess have made him one of the sport’s greatest champions. He is routinely entertaining during press conferences and 24/7 fight promotions, disrespecting opponents and pundits alike. Whether he is throwing shade by showing absurd checking account balances or launching into profanity riddled tirades, Floyd’s game is on point. The boxing legend never backed down from his smack talk, with victims like Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao and even reporter Larry Merchant. Mayweather made himself hard to love throughout his career, but with support from the Money Team it hardly matters to him at all.
11 Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens talked so much trash over the course of his legendary NFL career that it probably cost him a first ballot Hall of Fame induction. There is no other explanation for why the 2nd best receiver in terms of career yardage has not been inducted into Canton. He was known for his excessive celebrations, which includes the now infamous spike on the star of the Dallas Cowboys 50 yard line. Famous for quotes like “I love me some me!” and “Getcha popcorn ready”, T.O. was as unstoppable on the field as his mouth was off of it.
10 Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders was influential on the sport of football to a tremendous extent. One of the few multi-sport professional athletes, Sanders’ speed and athleticism was virtually unparalleled, which almost makes his trash talking abilities overkill. Sanders was an elite cornerback and return man that often celebrated with high steps and talked trash while the play was still underway. It is no surprise that an athlete with that skill-set transitioned brilliantly to life as an analyst in front of the camera.
9 Pedro Martinez
There are few pitchers in Major League history that brought the flair and tenacity that Pedro Martinez has. He not only spoke with his words, but was not afraid of backing it up with inside pitches or hit batsmen. His ability to enrage opponents helped fuel the rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, which culminated in Martinez throwing 71-year-old Don Zimmer to the mound during a bench clearing incident. Even in his memoir, Pedro took the opportunity to land a few jabs at opponents that he felt had not yet had their fill.
8 Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett has spent the majority of his NBA career infuriating and intimidating his opponents. From his pre-game routine of headbutting the basket stanchion to his constant verbal jabs, Garnett’s game is all about getting in his opponents' head. He savagely took down then rookie Joakim Noah, when the Bulls center said he had a KG poster on his wall growing up. Even in his latest commercial series with State Farm, Kevin Garnett takes the time to throw shade by kissing his ring and poking fun at Deandre Jordan’s lack of a championship ring.
7 Shannon Sharpe
Shannon Sharpe is not only one of the greatest receiving tight ends of all time, he is also one of the greatest trash talkers in league history. Sharpe was a nightmare for opposing defenses to deal with because he was almost impossible to match up with. His feud with Ray Buchanon is one of the funniest in league history. Not to mention, his phone call to the President to call in the National Guard, which was absolutely hilarious. Sharpe’s trash talking prowess was even used in a commercial appearance for Schwab mutual funds.
6 Larry Bird
Larry Bird’s career is chock-full of fantastic stories of his trash talking prowess. One story involves Larry the Legend walking into the locker room before the NBA All-Star 3-Point Contest and asking his fellow competitors who was playing for second place. As a rookie, Larry told Clyde Drexler that he couldn’t guard him and then followed it up by scoring 10 straight points. However, the best Larry Bird trash talking story is from when he dropped 60 on the Atlanta Hawks all the while calling his shots and even calling for requests from opposing players.
5 Conor McGregor
Conor McGregor may not have been around for very long, but he has had an incredible impact on the sport of mixed martial arts. While his skills in the ring are widely respected, his trash talking game is unparalleled in the sport. His war of mind games against Jose Aldo caused the long-time Brazilian champion to be thrown off his game, resulting in one of the quickest knockouts in UFC history. “Mystic Mac” and "the Notorious", as he has been called, has been known to predict the round of his victories and humiliate his opponents before stepping into the Octagon. It will be interesting to see if his next opponent Rafael Dos Anjos, falls victim to these antics.
4 Steve Smith Sr.
In the last few seasons, Steve Smith has cemented his status as an NFL legend. Already considered one of the best receivers of his generation, Smith’s unbelievable abilities are complemented by trash talking that is unparalleled in the league today. Smith claimed to come out of the womb talking trash and his abilities have never been doubted in that area. Whether he is roasting Fred Smoot with a “love-boat” celebration, telling Aqib Talib to “Ice up, son”, or commanding his former team to mow his lawn, Smith’s mouth is as unstoppable as his receiving skills.
3 Satchel Paige
Satchel Paige is a mythical figure in baseball history that was as great of a showman as he was a pitcher. Famous for his windmill windups and ability to put on a show, he was also the greatest trash talker in baseball’s rich history. Playing professionally over the course of five decades, Paige spent the majority of his career pitching in the Negro Leagues, where he was the main attraction. Paige’s greatest trash talking accomplishment came during the 1942 Negro League World Series, where he intentionally walked two batters in order to face the legend Josh Gibson with the bases loaded. Paige then proceeded to call his pitch locations out loud and strike out Gibson on three pitches.
2 Michael Jordan
Widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, a crucial aspect of Michael Jordan’s game was his ability to talk trash to his opponents. His near-constant string of commentary could enrage, opponents like Charles Barkley, Nick Anderson and Dikembe Mutombo. He shot a free throw with his eyes closed, called his moves and shots against multiple opponents, and winked at opposing benches. Even in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he chose to take a few parting shots at Bryon Russel, who he famously crossed over before hitting the winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.
1 Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali is the greatest boxer and trash talker of all time. Ali was an expert self promoter, who often used a poetic flourish to boast while putting down his opponents. He started the trend of calling out the round in which he would knock out opponents. Ali’s quotes have inspired millions around the world and added to his lore. His braggadocio infuriated boxing fans during the Civil Rights era, while his protests against the Vietnam War drew the ire of the American government. He is undeniably the greatest, as he would proudly tell you to this day. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s Disease claimed many of his physical abilities, but not his ability to inspire future generations.